Monday, 20 May 2013

Volunteering for Art in Healthcare: Art & Artist Research Project for QR Codes

When I first volunteered for Art in Healthcare's art and artist research project for QR codes, I hadn’t heard of the organisation, didn’t know what a QR code was, and had no formal training in art. The idea of doing something useful and interesting from home appealed – but would they have me?  Very swiftly I was invited to a friendly induction meeting and let loose on some paintings in the Oncology Ward of Edinburgh’s Western General.

Arabella Crum Ewing's, The Sea, The Sea
The volunteer brief is to write a short piece, up to 500 words, on each artwork, which will be accessible through the QR code on the label and on the website.  After looking at the works 'in situ', I use online resources, including the artist’s website.  Sometimes I then contact the artist.  I’ve found all of these steps fascinating, and, although at times unsure about my interpretations of the paintings, I enjoy putting the descriptions together. I’ve now written around 20 descriptions of a variety of pieces – water-colours, oils, multi-media collages, etchings and screenprints, photographs and tapestries.  I’d like to write about my experiences with the three works illustrated below.

Arabella Crum Ewing’s etching, The Sea, The Sea, is in a small room in the Western’s oncology ward.  I enjoyed my conversation with the woman whose bed was next to it. (One of the pleasures of visiting the hospital is seeing how the people who see the pictures every day react to them.) She liked the vivid scene and the detailed birds.  But like me she was puzzled by the pink mushroom-like plants in the foreground! I never worked out what they were. (Any suggestions from botanists reading this are welcome!) But when I got home I found a bigger puzzle.  The etching’s full title is Oaharra! Oaharra! The Sea! The Sea!  Was Oaharra a place name – possibly Irish?  Or Maori? I’d been in New Zealand – was that the Auckland Harbour Bridge in the background? Eventually I googled “the sea, the sea”, and found that Xenophon recorded these words as the cry of the Ancient Greek army after their trek through Asia Minor.  In Greek it was Θαλαττα (pronounced “thalatta”), so the title was simply The  Sea!  - repeated four times. At some point someone had mistranscribed the Greek words.  Mystery solved!

Stephen Lawson's, The Old Town from Waverley Bridge
Stephen Lawson’s, The Old Town from Waverley Bridge, interested me because of the artist’s distinctive style.  He has specialised in time-lapse photography and his website includes a fascinating 12 minute film describing the development of his technique.  The work is composed of 60 vertical slices of the view, taken at regular intervals over a day. The railings at Waverley Bridge are in the foreground, and as one’s eye is drawn along the long photograph, from Arthur’s Seat through the Old Town, the Castle, the Scott Monument to Princes Street on the left, one also becomes aware of the changes of the light on a November day – from dawn at 8am to darkness by 6pm.  Another time lapse work on the website is of the Callanish Stones on Lewis.  On a visit to Inverness Museum in December, it was a wonderful surprise to see that photograph on display.

Sometimes a painting can delight because of a personal connection.  I took an instant liking to Shona McEwan’s, Inverleith Allotments, because I had recently seen my stepdaughter, actor Gowan Calder, in a Fringe play there. This watercolour seemed to me to perfectly capture that fertile, but slightly windswept and haphazard quality that allotments seem to have!   I learned that Shona had carried out some public artworks in the 1990s and I contacted her to see what she was doing now.  This is part of her reply:
Shona McEwan's, Inverleith Allotments

“I’ve always had a great love of colour and pattern.  After graduating I was commissioned to do murals for the Children’s Ward at Monkland’s General Hospital, and for the recreation area of Polmont Young Offenders Institution.  I also helped restore a Second World War mural in Abbot House Dunfermline. I’ve been an arts worker within a social work day centre, and am now doing my best to bring an artistic slant to promoting the work of the adult protection committee.  I don’t do any of my own work now, but since moving a year ago, I’ve now at last got my own garden, and with my seven-year old daughter am discovering the joy of planting seeds and bulbs and watching things grow.”

It was lovely to get this email, which says so much about the importance of art in everyone’s life. 

Written by our guest blogger and volunteer, Kate Calder, while Martine Pugh is away.

References: Arabella Crum Ewing The Sea! The Sea!:

Stephen Lawson: Edinburgh Old Town from Waverley Bridge:

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